The Orlando Magic defeated the Houston Rockets 104-101 on Wednesday night at the Amway Center. It was a game they most likely would not have won a year ago.
Orlando survived two big runs from the Rockets to come away with a hard-earned victory. One of those runs came in the fourth quarter, when a probable win became very much in doubt.
Orlando jumped out to a 20-10 lead halfway through the first quarter on jumper by Nikola Vucevic. James Harden’s driving layup with 1:01 to go completed a 21-5 Houston run, lifting them to a 33-27 at the end of the quarter.
Aaron Gordon kept the Magic close in the second quarter, scoring seven points in the first five minutes of the third period. His three-pointer with 4:52 remaining, tied the game at 46. Another three, followed by two more from Evan Fournier, sent the Magic into the locker room with a 59-53 lead.
The Magic score the first eight points of the third quarter to boost the lead to 14. Harden then scored eight straight points for the Rockets, before Orlando responded to restore the double digit margin. They led 87-74 heading into the fourth quarter.
With the Magic leading 89-75, Houston went on a 13-0 run to cut the margin to a single point with 6:20 remaining. Harden’s 18-foot jumper gave the Rockets a 99-98 lead with 2:47 left. After a Payton layup, Patrick Beverly made two free throws to put Houston back in front, 101-100.
Fournier then made a difficult four-footer over the outstretched hand of Dwight Howard with 14 seconds left to put Orlando back on top.
“He did what you should do,” said Magic Coach Scott Skiles. “You put the ball on the floor and try to make a play, see if you can score or get fouled, don’t settle for a terrible jump shot or anything like that. And he was able to get the ball to go in.”
Trevor Ariza missed a three-pointer with three seconds left that would have returned the lead to Houston. Tobias Harris made two free throws to close the scoring.
Vucevic, as he has done so often, led the Magic in scoring with 21 points. Harris had 19 and Fournier added 17.
Harden led the Rockets with 31 points. Howard had 12 points and Ty Lawson chipped in 11. Harden, the league’s most prolific free throw shooter, attempted only six and made five. Going in, Skiles pointed to the Magic’s goal of keeping Harden off the line as much as possible.
The Magic hit 52 percent of their shots from the field, including 7 of 16 three-point attempts. Houston shot 49 percent, but made only 7 of 29 three point shots. The Magic out-rebounded Houston 42-36.
Orlando (17-12) has Christmas off, but head to Miami on Saturday to play the Southeast Division-leading Heat